NAPO – News & Narratives #2MED633

In a recap from last week Habermas/Lippman’s Public Sphere theories we began with the idea of ‘Defining our Realities’. Looking at this with respect to the media Castells idea the media is ‘the social space where power is decided? (2007: 238) is particularly interesting especially after last weeks focus on the Ideal Public Sphere and whether its possible indeed in a deliberative model of democracy or at all in the Elite model which we seem to be ran under – or certainly lean more towards. This lead us to look at the ‘Symbolic Power’ or as Thompson puts it the Power “to influence the actions of others” (Thompson 1995: 17).

With this in mind we began our look at narratives, to which I particularly enjoyed the new (to me) concept of Communication, or News, as Ritual rather than simply Transmission. Transmission communication, is perhaps as simple as a dictionary definition of communication, is that of transmitting, sending, receiving information. However the other view is that communication is a Ritual an “Extension of Messages in space toward the maintenance of society in time.” (Carey 1989: 18).  In other words not finding out what has happened, like in the transmission model, but rather communicating to find out or re-affirm who we are.

News are little spoke of as stories, it is largely seen as fact, this is important because of the Symbolic power, the power to influence, News has. We looked at the idea of Enigmas, or in a Journalists mind the W’s – What, When, Who, Where, Why + How. Novels use enigmas to tease the reader in and rather than answering all of these questions straight away they give little by little away to keep you reading. Think about a Spy or Detective story you never know the full story until the last chapter. Whereas in News stories you are encouraged, or perhaps, expected to use the inverted pyramid model. This generally leads to the 6 Ws to be answered in the first sentence and in sharp contrast to Gabriel Garcia Mårquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude opener:

‘Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendi?a was to remember that distant a Dernoon when his father took him to discover ice’

After Graham pointed out that this style of news stories may seem like a good thing as we get the important facts quick, we can easily edit them as journalists – by just chopping the bottom off – it largely creates a superficial view of our Public Sphere. This was explored with Postmans comment: News consumers are: ‘the best entertained and quite likely the least well-informed people in the Western world’ (Postman 1985: 108).

What I found interesting by all of this was the trade-off between Story and Plot or as Torodov Puts it “The story is what has happened, the Plot is the way the author presents it” (Todorov 1977: 45). If this is the nub of it that means even the most objective journalist can never really tell the story only the plot.

With this in mind we had a brief insight into data journalism – which I hope we will re-explore – it seems the idea of this was to try to do what Torodov seems to suggest is impossible. By creating databases of information it is no longer up to the journalist to write the plot but simply present the story. Obviously there are limitations to this, the journalist could still withhold data and indeed the consumer then weaves their own plot with this data. And this is perhaps the most interesting idea, as it links back to communication being all about Identity, not facts, but finding our place in the world so we can be at peace with it. Or so we can jump back into Habbermas’ sphere and try to reason with it until we do understand.

With the world ever increasingly leaving its Industrial state and moving to a Networked state; Herbert Gans idea that the inverted pyramid is becoming outdated seems particularly important. Which essentially says Journalists need to get better at presenting the story, or indeed the Plot.

(Journalists) ‘will have to learn how complicated events can be described and explained in a more easily understandable fashion; and how connections between events and their contexts can be made intelligibly’ Gans (2009: 23).

With Thanks to Lecturer Professor Graham Meikle Email: g.meikle@westminster.ac.uk Twitter: @graham_meikle